We love road blocks; flushing toilets and murder rates: random facts about Latin America

September 16, 2010

     By Duncan Green     

The Economist has a big report on Latin America this week, to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the start of its struggle for Latin America GDPindependence (unfinished business, some would say). Here are some of the more striking statistical nuggets and other bits and pieces.

The region has 15% of the world’s oil reserves, a large stock of its minerals, a quarter of its arable land (much of it unused) and 30% of its fresh water.

Marketing people are beginning to talk about a “Latin American decade”. But there are at least three big worries. First, since 1960 it has seen the lowest growth in productivity of any region in the world, not least because around half of all economic activity takes place in the informal sector. Second, despite some recent improvement, its income distribution is still the most unequal anywhere. This has acted as a drag on growth and caused political conflict. Third, it suffers from widespread crime and violence, much of it perpetrated by organised drug gangs.

Today the average Mexican woman has two children, compared with seven in the 1960s. In 1960 four-fifths of Mexican homes had at most two rooms and no toilet; now 60% have three rooms or more and have a flushing lavatory.

Chile Solidario, a programme aimed at eradicating extreme poverty, shows signs of becoming the flagship for a new generation of social protection policies, going beyond Brazil’s iconic Bolsa Familia scheme. It puts the destitute in touch with social workers to make sure they benefit from programmes including job training, education and housing as well as income support. Colombia has set up a similar scheme. In Peru a programme in the poorest parts of the southern Andes has reduced child malnutrition. These programmes are more complicated and costly than conditional cash transfers (CCTs) but they can be more effective, especially in cities. Ricardo Paes de Barros, who advises Marina da Silva, the Green Party candidate in October’s presidential election, wants to see such a scheme in Brazil. He says it could deploy an existing network of community health agents. With Bolsa Família “for the first time we managed to identify a group of the poor who weren’t visible before. Now we can make sure the poor receive social assistance in a joined-up way,” he says.

Latin America murder rates[In Colombia] Between 2002 and 2008 the murder rate halved and killings of human-rights activists and trade-union leaders abated. Brazil has come up with some answers. In the decade to 2008 the murder rate in São Paulo state fell by 70%. Economic growth helped, but so did better police management. The police gave priority to catching murderers, with the clear-up rate for killings rising from 20% in 2001 to 65% in 2005

15 big cities generate more than half of Latin America’s GDP

In a recent poll 22% of respondents outside Lima approved of blocking roads as a form of protest.

That’s enough random stats for the moment (but feel free to add your own). Meanwhile I’m in Addis Ababa at a UN ‘expert group’ (ha!) meeting on eradicating poverty (although just getting our UN credentials seemed an almost insuperable challenge – ending world poverty might take a little longer….). My traditional conference whinge will come in due course, followed by what will hopefully be a more interesting account of the ensuing field trip (literally – the fields are being used to grow roses and coffee) to talk to farmers organizations and the like.